Trump's treasury secretary grilled on Capitol Hill, hints he'll block release of tax returns

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gets an earful from House Democrats, ducks serious questions about tax returns

Published April 9, 2019 3:05PM (EDT)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; President Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; President Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Salon)

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin took considerable heat from congressional Democrats on Tuesday as he fielded questions about President Trump's tax returns.

While testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Mnuchin told lawmakers that a lawyer from the White House had communicated in advance with Treasury Department lawyers regarding House Democrats' request to see Trump's tax returns, according to ABC News.

"I have not spoken to the White House chief of staff or the president about this decision," Mnuchin told Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., when asked about the request for Trump's tax returns. Mnuchin later said that the conversations between the two teams had been "purely informational" and said that he supports the president's refusal to release his returns, describing it as an "individual decision" to be made by the chief executive.

"There is a requirement for presidents to have financial disclosure. I believe this president has complied with that, as other people, and the general public when they elected President Trump made the decision to elect him without his tax returns being released," Mnuchin told the committee.

Referring to a Republican member of Congress, Mnuchin added, "I am sure there are many prominent Democrats who are relieved that when Kevin Brady was chairman of the [House Ways and Means] committee that he didn't request specific returns. But anyway, it is a pleasure to be here with you today."

Mnuchin's comments echoed the argument made by Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney when he appeared on "Fox News Sunday" earlier this week.

"That’s an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns. They knew that he didn’t, and they elected him anyway," Mulvaney declared. He later said that Democrats "know" they won't get the president's tax returns but "just want attention on the issue because they don’t want to talk to us about policy."

Lawrence Summers, who served as Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton and National Economic Council director under Barack Obama, wrote in the Washington Post on Monday that Mnuchin has no right to stop the head of the IRS from releasing Trump's tax returns.

For Mnuchin "to seek to decide whether to pass on the president’s tax return to Congress would surely be inappropriate and probably illegal," Summers wrote. "I would surely not have done it. Rather, I would have indicated to the IRS commissioner that I expected the IRS to comply with the law as always."

Summers added that the relevant law dated back to 1924, and wrote, "I have not been able to find any case where the IRS did not promptly provide full disclosure to a tax-writing committee. The statute is entirely clear regarding the right of the committee to request individual taxpayer information. And Congress explicitly prohibits the IRS from withholding information from inquiries such as this one: Section 1203 of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act details the '10 deadly sins' for which IRS employees can be fired. Number 7 is 'willful misuse' of the provisions of Section 6103 ... to conceal information from a congressional inquiry."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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